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Calling all those who said they needed help

You know who you are. Kenneth, Leon, William, Joseph and Walter. You knowwhy I'm calling your names out in print today. And Arthur, Tina, Gordon,Andre, Tory and Shawn - where are you?

Give us a call.

Last we heard, you were all looking for help. You all recently contactedthe coordinator of a Baltimore program that tries to pull ex-offenders (formerdrug dealers, drug addicts) out of the horrid cycle of jail-to-street-to-jailand get them into something better - something like a good job, something likea decent life.

But Chip Reis, the program coordinator, hasn't heard from you for a while.

So what's up with that?

I mean, you called once; you obviously needed help.

Unless you all found jobs with great pay and benefits in the last fewweeks, I can't imagine you're suddenly living large.

In fact, it's easier to imagine the worst - that you've drifted back to thelife you wanted to leave or surrendered to frustrations with all thosecompanies that do background checks and won't hire people because of theirfelony convictions for drug possession.

Maybe you've settled for a lousy, temporary job again.

Or maybe you're just sitting at home in the middle of the day watching yourstories.

I hope I'm wrong.

So call and tell me I am (410-332-6166). Or call Reis, the job placementguy who offered to help you (410-837-1800, ext. 130) and who is now wonderingwhat happened to you.

Good ole Baltimore.

We've got something like 635,000 citizens, and it's been reported severaltimes that one out of 10 or 11 of us are addicted to heroin and/or cocaine.

You take that number - or, take it down to the lower range of the officialestimates, something like one in 15 - and you add those who never did dope butsold it, add those in recovery, add those of us in the city and suburbs who'vebeen robbed or had their houses or cars broken into by hopheads looking forproperty they could turn into cash they could turn into drugs.

Bottom-line that, and you've got one fat swath of the Patapsco DrainageBasin population affected by the poison of drug addiction.

So we're trying to do something about this. What we've taken is arelatively simple approach: Help drug dealers and recovering addicts get jobs,and get the word out to companies, large and small, that maybe they couldconsider hiring one or two of these men and women because, unless they get asecond chance at something legitimate and decent, they'll just revert to theirold ways and keep the harm in Charm City.

The people mentioned above either called here or called Reis at GoodwillIndustries of the Chesapeake because they'd heard about a program there thathelps ex-offenders find jobs.

Goodwill is one of only a handful of programs that provides this service toan ex-offender population that numbers in the thousands. (Just to give a sliceof the picture: The state of Maryland releases approximately 15,000 inmatesfrom prison each year, and half of them return to Baltimore. Half of them goback to prison within three years.)

So you made one phone call to ask for help.

Then Reis didn't hear from you again.

So that's why I am calling out today, and calling out for you.

Steven and Erika, Kenneth, Clifton, Angela and Robert.

Keisha - where are you?

I've lost contact with a bunch of other young guys who called here insummer, saying they were done with dealing dope and wanted a job - any job -that would take them off the street.

But their interest in getting on a better track seems to have lasted aminute.

Look, this is hard. This takes patience. I know you needed a job threemonths ago. I know a lot of you groan when you hear me suggest certain"programs" - Goodwill, STRIVE, the Mayor's Ex-Offender Initiative - becauseyou can't imagine that a "program" is going to help you. (This just in: DontaEllerbe, profiled in this space a week ago, found a job in a cafe with thehelp of the Goodwill program just in the past couple of days.)

When Lewis Jones called here last week, I heard a baby crying in thebackground and Jones' voice sounded strained and tired, even a littledesperate.

I feel ridiculous telling a guy like Jones to be patient.

Easy for me. I have a job. I'm not four months out of prison, or just offhome detention, with felonies on my record, trying to find employmentsomewhere near a bus route because I don't own a car. I probably couldn'thandle much rejection. I'd feel as many of you do - that a felony convictionis a chain you will never shake.

I'd be tempted just to go back to what I knew. "I gotta do what I gotta doto support my family," I've heard more than one man say, and he meant sellingdope again.

Look, you can't do that. Your family, your neighborhood, your city need youto do better. The fact that you made the first phone call says a lot aboutyou. It says you're ready.

But you have to make the second call, and the third, and the 15th. I can'tgive you a time frame for finding a job and a new and decent life. It takes aslong as it takes.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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